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Silhouette in the Shadows

sinclairMany long-time romance readers didn’t know what to make when Harlequin announced that they were changing the name of the Silhouette line to Harlequin in April of next year. Until the details became better known, there was even fear that the Silhouette lines were being discontinued. Luckily, as it turns out, this was simply a name change.

I should have seen it coming. In June of this year, Harlequin announced that the Silhouette Nocturne was now the Harlequin Nocturne line. According to a post from a reader on GoodReads, Harlequin announced, “If you’re looking for the Nocturnes on eHarlequin, be advised that starting in June Nocturne is making a slight switch from Silhouette Nocturne to Harlequin Nocturne. Don’t worry, the authors, books and elements you love about Nocturne aren’t changing, they’re just trying it make it a bit easier for Harlequin fans to find more paranormal romances! There is now a page for Harlequin Nocturne on eHarlequin.com, and the backlist titles still under Silhouette are available here. ” As far as I can tell, this text is no longer visible on the eHarlequin site.

It looks like the experiment worked. Renaming the Silhouette Nocturne line didn’t worldwide panic, except maybe among vampires. So now Harlequin will rename all of the Silhouette lines. According to the letter circulated to Silhouette authors, “Rebranding the Silhouette series as Harlequin will ensure that these series benefit from the promotional resources dedicated to the Harlequin brand and will strengthen the Harlequin consumer brand as the market leader in romance fiction.” Another big reason is “In the digital future, search and discovery will become even more important, and customers’ ability to find our authors and books will be enhanced by the use of the Harlequin brand.”

As someone who has been frustrated searching for books on-line, that makes the most sense to me. If someone is searching for Harlequins on the Kindle, nook, iPad, or other eBook platform, they won’t find the Silhouettes. If they’re new to romance, they might not even know they exist. Most people have heard of Harlequin but think a Silhouette is a shadow. Also, readers generally don’t go on-line looking for the Silhouette website. They search for Harlequin. They are more likely to view URLs such as eHarlequin, than URLs containing the Silhouette name, which they may not recognize.

While the reasons behind the rebranding make sense, as someone who has being reading Silhouette romances since they first  came out, the name change still makes me sad. My first Silhouette ever was the first Silhouette Romance, a book by former Harlequin author Anne Hampson. Then came more Silhouette lines — Desires and Silhouette Intimate Moments (my favorites) and Special Edition (OK, I loved them, too), and I was hooked. Here were books with the American touch. I had read some British imports before, but nothing made a real impression. “What was that book where the hero was a famous race car driver, and the heroine was?… Wait, I’ve forgotten her. Never mind.”

Silhouette, on the other hand, had my attention. As the old guidelines for Desire said, “Desire books will emphasize innovative, unique plots, exploring realistic relationships which have been ignored up to now in other romance lines. They should depict the fears, doubts and problems, as veil as the exhilarating wonder, of falling in love.” They also banned contrived plots such as the marriage of convenience and called for innovative, realistic plots. (Read more at Romance Wiki.) In the Silhouette lines, heroines could be everything from cops who were former prostitutes to computer programmers.

The heroine of one of the first Desires I read was a research scientist embroiled in accusations of falsifying data. Plots ran the gamut from small town romances to big city stories, romantic suspense and mystery. Even paranormal now and then. The settings were usually American, and most of the authors were American. At the time, Harlequin had only two series in the U.S. — Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents. Harlequin tried promoting their series by reminding readers about their exotic settings. But many Americans just wanted to read about people like them, rather than British governesses in exotic settings. Many of us didn’t want to read about mousy heroines who caught the eye of sophisticated rogues. We wanted people we could relate to, and Silhouette understood that before Harlequin caught on.

In a romance world dominated by Harlequin, where did Silhouette come from? Did you know that Silhouette was originally an imprint of Simon and Schuster? (I had to check RomanceWiki to refresh my memory.) While there were other category imprints, such as Dell Candlelight Ecstasy (which started in late 1980) and Berkley’s Second Chance at Love, Silhouette was the competition for Harlequin, and the favorite for many readers. It was for me, anyway. You knew Silhouette was good because they published several lines, catering to all types of readers, at a time when Harlequin was just getting its toes into that concept.

Also, you knew Silhouette was good because eventually, Harlequin bought Silhouette from Simon & Schuster in the mid-1980s — letting Silhouette keep its imprints.  Many believe that ended the competition in the category romance field. Shortly after the acquisition, most of the other lines died away. Berkley’s To Have and To Hold broke up with readers in 1985, the Candlelight lines flickered out in 1987, and Second Chance at Love had its last fling in 1989. Only Loveswept survived, folding away in 1999. The few later attempts to start non-Harlequin lines were short-lived.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of the behind-the-scenes workings. I didn’t even know that Silhouette was founded by the late Kate Duffy, who later went on to Kensington and founded Brava. All I knew was that I read Silhouette all the time — Silhouette Desire and Silhouette Intimate Moments were my favorite, but I also liked Silhouette Special Edition. I bought the other American lines (especially Loveswept), but I only started reading Harlequins in larger numbers when new lines such as Harlequin Superromance and Harlequin American Romance emerged. As a reader, what was I responding to? Books that appealed more to me as a young American reader. Not just books by about American heroines (although that helped), but longer stories, sexier stories, and more sophisticated stories.

Just looking at lists of the earliest Silhouette authors is a walk down memory lane. Linda Howard, Elizabeth Lowell, Dixie Browning, Stephanie James (aka Jayne Krentz), Lisa Jackson, Erin St. Claire (aka Sandra Brown), Mary Lynn Baxter, Diana Palmer (yes, I confess!), Joan Hohl, Barbara Faith, Lynda Trent, Linda Shaw, Ann Major, Billie Douglass, Rita Clay (yes, they named the RITA Award after her), Doreen Owens Malek, Ruth Langan, Kristin James (aka Candace Camp), Maura Seger, and many more. And of course, Nora Roberts. Yes, there were British authors (such as Anne Hampson) and New Zealanders such as Laurey Bright (aka Daphne Clair), but American authors such as Nora Roberts predominated.

As I learned from a talk at an RWA Conference, Nora Roberts submitted her first romance to Harlequin in the late 1970s but was rejected because “they already had their American writer.” Whoops. Big mistake, Harlequin. Luckily for Nora, Silhouette was established shortly after that, and the rest is history. American history, that is. Americans were not only hungry for romance, they were hungry for American romances. Enough of British secretaries and nurses. We wanted stories about American women with jobs we could relate to and American attitudes! Harlequin tried to compete by launching Harlequin Superromance — not only were these books longer, but they also featured American heroines (although they were sometimes set overseas). That wasn’t enough. American readers also wanted more than just longer romances. We wanted hotter romances. Quite a surprise as the original Harlequin titles used to be edited for content when they arrived on our shores.

Americans were already buying Candlelight Ecstasy books from Dell since 1980, and Second Chance at Love from Berkley since 1981. Silhouette proved its growing dominance by countering with Silhouette Desire in 1982. They also responded to readers’ demands for longer, more sophisticated stories with Silhouette Special Editions (1982) and Silhouette Intimate Moments (1983). So is it any surprise that Harlequin started the Harlequin American line in 1983?  It’s more of a surprise that it took until 1984 for them to launch Harlequin Temptation, their first sexier line (the precursor to Blaze) or that it took them until 1984 to try to attract romantic mystery fans with Harlequin Intrigue. Even after the acquisition, it seemed Silhouette was often ahead of things. Both Special Editions and Intimate Moments sometimes included “out there” elements such as paranormal or time travel, and in 1993, the Silhouette Shadows line offered paranormal, Gothic, and romantic suspense stories, 13 years before the Nocturne line. Many believe Shadows was a line ahead of its time, which might explain why it only lasted a few years.

Looking over the names of the Silhouette authors I grew into romance with feels like running through a field of multicolored books. It  makes me miss the stories I used to love. It was enough to send me to the basement to dig through my boxes of old categories, and to make me wish I’d kept even more of them. Just as people who grew up with a certain type of music think that’s the best music, I’m fondest of the stories I read in college and during my first job (because even the lamest romance is better than those environmental assessments I was editing). Still, I found gems in all decades. Who can go wrong with authors like Heather Graham Pozzessere, Marie Ferrarella,  Lindsay McKenna, Beverly Barton, Karen Keast (the late Sandra Canfield), Kathleen Korbel (Eileen Dreyer), Karen Templeton, Katherine Garbera, Jennifer Greene, and Suzanne Brockmann?

Today the Silhouette Special Editions have been classified as a ” Heart & Home” romance line on eHarlequin (“Life, love, and family”). The Intimate Moments line was renamed Silhouette Romantic Suspense in 2007. The new guidelines for Desire turned it into more of an American version of Harlequin Presents instead of the game-changer it once was. Remember how the old guidelines banned contrivances such as marriages of conveniences. The new guidelines say, “The conflict should be dramatic with such classic plot lines as revenge, secret pregnancies, marriages of convenience and reunion romances.” It’s as if the story lines went backwards, not fowards.

To an old fan, it seems that the lines are “Silhouette Shadows” of their old selves. So while the name change is sad, what’s sadder is that I lost the Silhouettes I used to love years before. I know there are great books I’m missing, but I don’t know where to start. I can’t imagine Karen Keast’s One Lavender Evening being published as a Special Edition today, not with those mild paranormal elements. And of course, some of Nora Roberts’ best Intimate Moments books wouldn’t be allowed near the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line today.

I hope this works out well for Harlequin, for the Silhouette authors, and for the fans. I don’t want the Silhouette lines to morph yet again, or worse, fade away. However, for this to truly work, Harlequin has to make sure readers know what’s going on. For a while, if you went to the Silhouette Nocturne page, you saw the notice about the name change. Now, the only  Silhouette Nocturne link is under “No longer available in print,” and clicking that only goes to the eBook backlist of the Silhouette Shadows books. There is a link for Harlequin Nocturne, but of course, we know not everyone is going to see that. Some will think the line has ended. So while I hope the rebranding brings new fans to the Silhouette lines, I also hope existing fans don’t give up on their favorite Silhouette lines, thinking they’re no longer being published.

I also wish that Harlequin could bring some of the “Silhouetteness” back to the Silhouette lines. But it looks like I’ll have to travel back in time (or find a good used bookstore) to relive those days.

– Anne Marble AAR

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